Around 145,000 illegal cigarettes have been seized from Chatham businesses following a series of warrants organised by Kent Police, supported by Medway Council.
Four businesses in the town were visited by officers in the Medway Community Safety Unit, who were working in partnership with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Medway Council, on Friday 14 August 2020.
Court warrants were secured ahead of the visits to grant officers access to private areas of the shops. In one premises, a specialist search dog helped uncover thousands of cigarettes that had been hidden in a fridge freezer which was concealed behind a tiled wall in a fully functioning shower.
Officers also found the items, which had not paid the necessary UK duties, hidden behind ceiling tiles and in parked vans. The investigation will now be progressed by officers from HMRC.
Offenders seeking to profit at the taxpayer's expense
Inspector Steve Bassett, from Kent Police, said: "Our activity caused significant disruption to well organised offenders who are seeking to profit at the taxpayer’s expense. Offending like this is not a harmless crime, these items are often brought into the country by organised crime groups who we cannot allow to go unchallenged. Opportunistic shopkeepers who sell these items also gain an unfair advantage over law abiding businesses and this can have a detrimental impact on the livelihoods of shop holders acting legitimately. We have an excellent relationship with Medway Council, HMRC and BWY Canine Specialist Search Dogs, who train dogs to search for tobacco. We are all committed to clamping down on such activity. As this day shows, offenders often go to great lengths to conceal their products but we have the expertise and resources to carry out proactive action."
Illegal tobacco is incredibly dangerous
Cllr David Brake, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Adult Services, covering Public Health, said: “It is fantastic news that we, alongside our partners at Kent Police and HMRC, have stopped these products being sold in Medway. Illegal tobacco is incredibly dangerous and can cause serious health problems. It is also sold at incredibly low prices which could encourage children and young people to take up smoking. We will continue to work with Kent Police to take action against anyone found to be selling illegal tobacco."
The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated
Tom Hunnisett, Assistant Director of the Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: "The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clamp down on the illicit tobacco market, which steals money away from our vital public services and undermines legitimate traders. We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887."
You can also report the sale of illegal tobacco to us anonomously.